The Surprise of the City

The theme of the city in the Bible is a surprising one. When cities are introduced in the story, they’re depicted as “bad”—a human response to increasing violence and the need for self-protection—and gardens are depicted as humanity’s ideal setting. However, in the book of Revelation, the new creation Jesus brings is a city. What’s going on here? Join Tim and Jon as they start exploring the biblical theme of the city.

Episode 1
1hr 7m
Apr 24, 2023
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Show Notes


  • Part one (00:00-20:11)
  • Part two (20:11-32:09)
  • Part three (32:09-50:30)
  • Part four (50:30-1:06:53)

Referenced Resources

  • New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, Willem A. VanGemeren
  • The Garden City, John Mark Comer
  • "It takes a City to Raise a Child," Tim Keller
  • Interested in more? Check out Tim’s library here.
  • You can experience our entire library of resources in the BibleProject app, available for Android and iOS.

Show Music

  • “Defender (Instrumental)” by TENTS
  • “Kokon” by Plusma & Guillaume Muschalle
  • “Long Lost Friend” by Sam Stewart
  • “Just a Thought” by Tyler Bailey

Show produced by Cooper Peltz with Associate Producer Lindsey Ponder, Lead Editor Dan Gummel, and Editors Tyler Bailey and Frank Garza. Mixed by Tyler Bailey. Podcast annotations for the BibleProject app by Hannah Woo.

Powered and distributed by Simplecast.

Scripture References
Genesis 1
Genesis 1-3
Genesis 3:24
Revelation 21:2
Genesis 4:17
Genesis 14
Genesis 22
Revelation 22:1-3
Revelation 21:23-26
Genesis 10
Jonah 3
Ezekiel 36
Acts 18
Psalms 46:1-3
Psalms 46:4-7
Psalms 46:6
John 2
Isaiah 2
Revelation 21
Luke 2
2 Samuel 5
Acts 11:19-26
Exodus 7:10
Genesis 19:23-29
Revelation 3
Jonah 4:11
Psalms 46:3
Psalms 46:1
Psalms 46:7
Ezekiel 16:48
Isaiah 13:19-20
Zechariah 2:10-11
Zechariah 2:4-5

Speaker 1:  We're starting a new theme study today. It's the theme of the city. Cities are where most humans in the world work and play. We raise our families, we build businesses. The Bible cares a lot about the city because —

Speaker 2:  Cities are where loads and loads of human images of God are centralized. 

Speaker 1:  If you've been following this project, you know we've done a lot of themes about a lot of ideas in the Bible, but it's not often we do a theme study on a setting. But this setting, the city, is critical. 

Speaker 2:  They become little microcosms in the technical sense of that word, little mini universes. What's on display in the city is usually a barometer for what's happening in creation at large. 

Speaker 1:  Now, the ideal setting in the Bible on the first page is not a city, it's a garden. 

Speaker 2:  And when cities get introduced, they're entirely negative, and they remain mostly negative throughout the biblical story. 

Speaker 1:  But the story of the Bible has a surprise in store for us as it relates to the city. 

Speaker 2:  By the time you reach the last page, the fact that God's heavenly realm, that's going to merge with earth to be the new creation, is depicted as a city, I think is surprising. 

Speaker 1:  This is surprising because the city is introduced in the Bible as a tragic result of human violence, and it's in cities that violence grows and humanity becomes monstrous. But —

Speaker 2:  It isn't done away with in the ideal. It's incorporated into the restoration and redeemed. 

Speaker 1:  Today, Tim Mackie and I start exploring the theme of the city. I'm Jon Collins, and you're listening to BibleProject podcast. Thanks for joining us. Here we go. Hey, Tim. 

Speaker 2:  Hey, Jon. Hello. 

Speaker 1:  Hello. It's a good day. 

Speaker 2:  It's a great day because of what we're doing right now, in this moment. I love these moments. 

Speaker 1:  I do too. Yeah. I love doing this. That's one of my favorite parts of the job. It is exhausting for me, mentally. 

Speaker 2:  Mentally. Yeah. I was gonna say, we just sit here. 

Speaker 1:  Yeah. We just sit here. 

Speaker 2:   

Speaker 1:  But yeah, I find that after one or two of these, I'm just like, whew. Yeah, I'm tired.

Speaker 2:  Totally. Well, 

Speaker 1:  Do you feel that way? 

Speaker 2:  Mm-hmm. I usually feel really energized and happy — 

Speaker 1:  How many could you do —

Speaker 2:  That you're my friend — 

Speaker 1:  In a row?

Speaker 2:  And that I have this job, Uh, maybe I could go, we usually, for those of you who listen to the podcasts regularly, we usually record two at a time. 

Speaker 1:  Two at a time. That might be news for many people. 

Speaker 2:  And we try to block those together into groups of days. Yeah. So we record maybe four to six. Sometimes we block it together, but —

Speaker 1:  And that's why it seems like I am really good at remembering things from many episodes ago.

Speaker 2:  But then other times, like really not good  because it'll be like maybe three weeks before, since the last conversation we had. 

Speaker 1:  I'm a very forgetful person.

Speaker 2:  Yeah. Well, no, that happens to me too. So that's one thing. We've also tried to do three in a row in one day. 

Speaker 1:  We have.

Speaker 2:  And that did not work. Usually you're really quiet by the third one. And I feel tired. So, I guess so. I guess I do get tired. Anyhow, part of why I'm energized is because we are starting a new series, a new series of conversations about a new theme video. And we have yet to even think about the script. Like, we're starting script development by having these conversations.

Speaker 1:  Which is how we've traditionally have done it. 

Speaker 2:  Yep, that's right. 

Speaker 1:  Until more recently. 

Speaker 2:  That's right. 

Speaker 1:   Where things got ahead of us and we're like, we gotta write a script before we have all these conversations. That's right. So, yeah. I'm excited. I'm, I'm coming in fresh. This is a new theme I think will get us into some new territory. And tell me about what this theme is. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. This is gonna be a theme, video, and discussion about the city in the Bible. The city. 

Speaker 1:  Mm-hmm. The theme is a place. 

Speaker 2:  The theme is about a kind of place. Yeah, that's right. Yeah. So let's see. We've made theme videos about, like the Tree of Life, the Water of Life. But those are about, 

Speaker 1:  Those are about things. 

Speaker 2:  Things that happen. But the temple. 

Speaker 1:  The temple's a place 

Speaker 2:  It's a place. Yeah. Actually, there'll be an important relationship as we go on between temples and cities. 

Speaker 1:  And we did a theme on Heaven and Earth, which are two mega places. Yeah. Yeah. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. Totally. Yeah. So the city in the Bible. What makes it qualify as a theme? you may ask, Jon. 

Speaker 1:  Yeah. What, uh, what is it, why is this qualified as a theme?

Speaker 2:  So usually what we're shooting for is an idea, in this case a place, that appears in the earliest chapters of Genesis as some really foundational part of the beginning of this biblical story. And then just appears strategically and repeatedly throughout the biblical story that somehow reaches a climactic moment in the story of Jesus. And then reappears or comes to, like, complete fulfillment in the final pages of the Bible. And the city checks all those marks. The city.

Speaker 1:  The city. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. So first of all, let's just notice that probably, if most people think of the most well-known Bible stories they know, a whole bunch of them take place in a very small number of cities, were in relationship to a small number of cities. 

Speaker 1:  Okay. We got Jerusalem. That's an important city. 

Speaker 2:  Totally. Yeah. Both pretty much — Well, once for Abraham, though it's called Salem. And then once the story of David kicks in, it's just, Jerusalem's almost the central focus in most biblical books through the rest of the Hebrew Bible. For Jesus, his story comes to its climax in Jerusalem. 

Speaker 1:  But it starts in, um, another city. Bethlehem.

Speaker 2:  Yes, exactly right. Yeah. Small city. 

Speaker 1:  Is that a city? 

Speaker 2:  Well, as we're gonna see, these terms are relative from language to language. But, sorry, I'm, I'm gonna add Bethlehem here to my little list. 

Speaker 1:  Oh, okay.

Speaker 2:  Yeah. Thanks, Jon.

Speaker 1:  Mmm. Just helping you fill out your notes.  

Speaker 2:   Other cities in the Hebrew Bible that are significant are like Babylon. 

Speaker 1:  Mm. The big bad city. 

Speaker 2: Nineveh, capital city of the Assyrian empire. Hmm. It's interesting, when the story of Egypt comes into play in the Exodus scroll, the Israelites are building cities, but it doesn't ever say where, what city, the whole drama is happening in. It just says in the land of Egypt, which is interesting.

Speaker 1:  Wait, say that again?

Speaker 2:  The events of like Moses and the 10 plagues and all the times that Moses goes into the palace. 

Speaker 1:  That was Goshen. 

Speaker 2:  Ah, so the, the Israelites live in a region or a land called Goshen. But the actual showdown with Pharaoh and all those narratives are just, they're not specific about

Speaker 1:  It's not like Egypt 

Speaker 2:  a city. It's just in the land of Egypt. 

Speaker 1:  But the land of Egypt, cause that's a, that's an area. 

Speaker 2:  It’s a big area. And then when Moses goes to Pharaoh, it just says, and Moses went to Pharaoh. So it doesn't say, like, whether it was in a city or what it was. So I was just, interesting that Egypt is a region. 

Speaker 1:  Because Babylon and Nineveh are very specific cities. 

Speaker 2:  Yep. They were empires and regions. 

Speaker 1:  But Egypt is a region. 

Speaker 2: But each had a city as a capital, and Egypt doesn't have a central city that’s their focus. Interesting. Other cities, you know, that feature prominently in the biblical imagination, Sodom and Gomorrah, as cities that were particularly corrupt and were, you know, destroyed in this really catastrophic way. In the New — oh yeah, well, actually the story of Esther is the only story that takes place in its city. But Esther's a pretty popular biblical story. Takes place in, uh, Susa, the capital of the Persian Empire. In the New Testament, you have Jerusalem, but then you also have, when the Jesus movement gets centralized up in Antioch, it's a big deal in the book of Acts. And then it goes to Rome by the end of the book of Acts. Yeah. So from Jerusalem to Antioch to Rome. Yeah. This is the progression, uh, three cities. The biblical story concludes by describing the new creation as a city, the new Jerusalem. 

Speaker 1:  Mm. A city coming down from the skies, 

Speaker 2:  A holy city coming down from the skies. 

Speaker 1:  But the whole world is not a city at that point. New creation isn’t a city. 

Speaker 2:  Well, um,

Speaker 1:  Or is it? 

Speaker 2:  New creation is about God's heavenly realm descending to become one with earth, that's the scene. But the thing that is descending, is God's new creation to come merge, or God's heavenly realm coming to merge with earth to result in the new creation. Thank you for that clarification. And the thing that comes down is the holy city. That's also called a bride coming to get married. Which is important. It's super important, that connection between the city and the bride. But we'll get there. So anyhow, just the whole thing is that cities are a main venue for the significant events of the Bible. Not the only, actually there's an important binary because actually the most formative events in the life of the main characters of the Bible all take place, many of them take place, outside of cities. And purposefully so.

Speaker 1:  Yeah. So we're gonna, I'm anticipating to explore a bit of a rivalry between the city folk and the country folk. 

Speaker 2:   Yeah. Though I think it's a little bit different. Oh, well, I guess we're gonna find out. We're gonna find out. Yeah. City versus country 

Speaker 1:  And what we mean by that. 

Speaker 2:  And yeah. The opposition will certainly mean different things to different people depending on your social location, right? Yeah. And that's actually a good place to begin, real quick. So before we dive into the story, let's just orient ourselves to the meaning of the word city. First in the Hebrew Bible, and then kind of paint a picture for what is it that qualifies as a city in the Bible. ‘Cause it is different than, for sure, you and me growing up in 21st century West Coast America, and that will kind of help orient us. But maybe just, you know, this is, I guess, a fairly short introduction. It's only taken us a few minutes before we get into Hebrew. But what we're really talking about is cities are where, like, loads and loads of human images of God are centralized. And since humans as images of God and how they build a life together for good or for ill or both, I mean, that's really the center of the biblical drama, the kind of world humans build. And cities are where all of that building effort gets, you know, focused and centralized. And so they become little microcosms in the technical sense of that word. Micro —

Speaker 1:  Cosmos. 

Speaker 2:  And cosmos, little mini universes. What's on display in the city is usually a barometer for what's happening in creation at large.

Speaker 1:  Maybe about 15 years ago I heard this lecture by Timothy Keller on a defense for raising your kids in the city.

Speaker 2:  Oh yes. Yeah. Tim Keller's a pastor. 

Speaker 1:   In New York City.

Speaker 2:  In New York City. Yeah. In Manhattan. Yeah. And he wrote a lot about both thinking about the city from a biblical and a Christian perspective, but also practical in terms of the mission of Jesus' followers in the world. Which is maybe kind of where, where you’re going.

Speaker 1:  Well, and specifically he was trying to convince people that it's okay to raise your kids in the city. It's scary for some parents to think about how corrupting city life can be ‘cause there's so many potential evils around every corner, I suppose. So he’s got this, it was a whole hour-long lecture. And he talked about how, well one thing that stuck with me was, he talked about the survey that was taken at like a youth conference where they asked all the kids this whole list of questions about why they have or have not adopted their parents' faith. 

Speaker 2:  Mm-hmm. 

Speaker 1:  And the common denominator was not, well it's not any of the things you might expect. The common denominator was if kids felt like their parents understood the real world 

Speaker 2:  Mm-hmm. 

Speaker 1:  And understood their world. 

Speaker 2:  Mm-hmm. 

Speaker 1:  So his whole thing with that was like, hey, the real world is happening in the city, 

Speaker 2:   Like it or not 

Speaker 1:  Like it or not. Yeah. Like, that's where culture is being shaped. And that's where things are happening. And when your kids are in their adolescence, you actually want them to be around that. And you want them to have a vision of, especially if they're around that plus around Christians who are in that, a vision of like, I can live a real life being the craftsman, or the whatever my vocation is, in the city as a follower of Jesus. Like seeing that at work. He's like, that's super powerful. And then to be, have all this access to culture, like, is super important. And so he's like, bring your kids, especially in the, what he would call the back half, the back nine of raising your kids, like, bring 'em to the city. 

Speaker 2:  Man. You know what's so interesting is that I remember hearing that talk too. I think it was before I even had like a cell phone or a smartphone I had an MP3 player. Which means I would find things on the internet, download them onto this little tiny thing. 

Speaker 1:  Did you ever burn DVDs? 

Speaker 2:  Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Oh, of course. Yeah. Of course. 

Speaker 1:  Just load 'em with sermons and stuff. Totally. 

Speaker 2:  So I think even though I was living in Wisconsin at the time, going to grad school, we were still in, you know, contact with each other during those years. But we didn't see each other very often. And what's funny is that teaching made its way to both of us. Because I remember hearing that too. I remember what I was doing ‘cause we had just bought a dumpy little house, a fixer upper, and I was, spent months like remodeling it myself with Jessica and my friends. We'll never do that again. But I was literally, I was, had an industrial floor sander, sanding all these old hardwood floors and then was gonna refinish them myself. And I listened to that. While I had this huge industrial sander. Anyway. 

Speaker 1:  You must have had really good headphones. 

Speaker 2: Yeah, I have big, yeah. I put big ones on, so like fat ones. But what is significant, and we didn't have kids yet, this is before we had our first son, and I remember being really inspired by that. He painted a picture to say that city life has both strengths and weaknesses. He used the image from the book of Jonah that I thought was very clever, which was at the end of the book of Jonah, God says, shouldn't I care about this city that has 120,000 people who don't know the right hand from their left? And a lot of cows. 

Speaker 1:   And the cows, don’t forget the cows. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. And he just said one way to put it was just cities have the highest density of images of God. So —

Speaker 1:  I've heard you use that phrase a number of times.

Speaker 2:  They, they would be, I think I just used it a few minutes ago too, because it's true and God cares about his images. And so God's gonna have a special kind of focus or attention paid to these high-density image-bearing areas. But then also about, that the complexity of life in a city forces parents who really want to follow Jesus and help their kids see what it will really look like to follow Jesus, that it forces you to have conversations earlier that you might be able to put off a few years if you were living outside of the city. And so, ‘cause they're just gonna be — 

Speaker 1:  Or put off altogether. 

Speaker 2:  Or put off all together. Yeah. But you're gonna be forced to move towards the hard ethical, moral issues, economic, political issues, all the religious, all of it because they're just exposed to it as you walk around your neighborhood. And so I try to remind myself of that. ‘Cause we live near a pretty dense kind of hub in Portland. And so just walking to the grocery store with my sons, you know, you see all kinds of crazy stuff. That sparks great conversations. And some of them are hard and some of them I'm like, oh geez, I thought I had a year before we were gonna have to talk about that. And so I'm, as we're talking right now, I'm being reminded that this is why we chose to live where we live. So yeah. Cities are complex things in life, in reality. And they play that same role in the story of the Bible. It's actually really interesting. So this particular theme has a tweak to it that I don't know if we've ever quite done a thing like this in a conversation or theme video. And essentially, here's the big picture: The ideal for human existence in pages one and two of the Bible is a garden. The opposite of a city. 

Speaker 1:  Yeah. Well, I mean, there was only a couple people.

Speaker 2:   

Speaker 1:  Uh, like eventually, like if they're gonna live in Eden for a while, like —

Speaker 2:  Oh, sure, sure, sure. Okay. So in terms of the people and from their perspective, Adam and Eve. Yeah. But in terms of, from the author's perspective, who's living way later, who knows about cities and countries, like, the fact that the garden ideal is still revered as the ideal and not the city. And that that's somehow an image of God's ideal with his people, at least at the beginning that's there. 

Speaker 1:  Yeah. 

Speaker 2:  And when cities get introduced, they're entirely negative. And they remain mostly negative throughout the biblical story. So that by the time you reach the last page, the fact that God's heavenly realm that's going to merge with earth to be the new creation is depicted as a city, I think is surprising. It ought to surprise us. So it has a different kind of arc than most themes, which usually begin with the water of life or the tree of life, and it's like, there's the beautiful thing right there at the beginning.

Speaker 1:  And then we get back to it. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. And then it gets ruined. Or it gets lost in some way. And then Jesus somehow flips it or redeems it. Heals it. And then that's new creation. This theme is not like that, it's different. Does that, at least that's clear in my mind. Has, does that make sense? 

Speaker 1:  It does. Yeah. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. So the ideal is different. It's a garden. Cities are introduced as something not good, and then somehow they go through some transformation, because it's the ideal in the end. I just think that’s fascinating.

Speaker 1:  It is fascinating. Hmm. But it is also a heavenly city. 

Speaker 2:  Hmm mm-hmm.  

Speaker 1:  It's a city. It comes from the skies and it's a very — merged with garden imagery, this city. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. Oh, it's for — it's a city that is also the garden of Eden. So we'll get there. But my point is just, the theme works a little differently than themes we would normally cover. Okay. So let's shift, let's first learn about the Hebrew word for city and kind of the, we're trying to stock our mental encyclopedia with all the meaning and associations that cities would have for the biblical authors. That's something you gotta do every time you tackle a new idea in the Bible. And then when we have that filled out, I think we'll turn to just what I would call the puzzle of the city in the Bible for this first conversation. 

So the word city in the Bible, this is a new Hebrew word, Jon. Aren't — we've never talked about it before. And you're, you are retaining Hebrew vocabulary as we go on in this project. It's really fun to see you learning Hebrew words.

Speaker 1:   Yeah. Well, it's been years. I should, I should know way more. I, and the amount of times I've gone, I'm like, I'm just gonna learn the alphabet and then haven't done it. I mean, I could be way more ahead than me now. 

Speaker 2:  Well, I don’t know. Okay. 

Speaker 1:  But thank you. Yeah. You're welcome. I've got my 20 Hebrew words on lock.  

Speaker 2:  The word city in the Bible, it's the word ir. It sounds like the English word for, you know, this thing on the side of our heads, ear. The way, you know, great-grandpa Moses would've said it is, um, you know how it's spelled with three letters — ‘Ayin, yod, resh, ir. And ‘ayin is one of two letters in Hebrew that begin, in kind of modern pronunciation, kind of as silent letters. In other words, that ‘ayin isn't, it's a consonant in Hebrew. But here's what, how you say that, this letter: you close your throat. And you push out the first vowel. And that closing of the throat is the letter.

Speaker 1:  Is the letter. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. So think of how we — 

Speaker 1:  I heard you do it just now. 

Speaker 2:  Think of how we say the word orange in English. 

Speaker 1:  Okay. Orange. 

Speaker 2:  Orange. Pay attention to your throat muscles. 

Speaker 1:  Oh, I can't close it at first.

Speaker 2:  Yeah. In the first 

Speaker 1:  Orange. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. Orange. So you pinch your throat. And then it closes for you to push out the orange. So that ir that closing of the throat and the pushing out is the letter, is the letter ‘ayin. So if you hear people who grew up speaking Hebrew, modern Hebrew, you can hear a little, ah, like a little click in the back of your throat. ‘Ayin, ‘ayin. 

Speaker 1:  I heard it when you, 

Speaker 2:  Um, and this is super nerdy, like Semitic phonology. But remember that Hebrew has a cousin language, Aramaic. And they're very close, kind of like French and Spanish. And often words in Hebrew that begin with ‘ayin are paralleled in Aramaic with the letter kof. Which is a c —

Speaker 1:  It's just like a harder closing of the throat.

Speaker 2:  It's just a harder closing of the throat. Exactly. So in Aramaic, it's,

Speaker 1:  It's almost like you're doing a G, but in your throat. 

Speaker 2:  Exactly. So in transliteration, it's like 

Speaker 1:  I'm choking myself. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. In technical transliteration font, the letter ‘ayin is represented by a G with a dot under it. 

Speaker 1:  Oh, the G. Okay. 

Speaker 2:  ‘Ayin. So ir, ir.

Speaker 1:  Ir. Oh my goodness. All right. That's why that apostrophe is right before the ir. 

Speaker 2:  Exactly. So, yeah. In, in non-technical transliteration, you signify this letter ‘ayin with, uh, an apostrophe. Anyway. 

Speaker 1:  Okay, cool. 

Speaker 2:  There you go. Little lessons in Semitic phonology. 

Speaker 1:  We're gonna get there. We're gonna learn Hebrew. I'm gonna do it. One letter at a time. 

Speaker 2:  Okay. So the word ir occurs 1,092 times in the Hebrew Bible. That's a lot. 

Speaker 1:  That's, that's a big word. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. Yeah. It's a lot. It's definitely one of the ones you, if you learn the top like 100 or 200 words, this is one of them. Okay. So I'm reading from the entry in the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis. It's like, uh hmm. It, it's not just a dictionary of Old Testament Hebrew words. It's a long commentary entry on hundreds and hundreds of Hebrew words. It's everything you would ever wanna know. And probably more than you wanna know. Anyhow, this word has a parallel in other Semitic languages, Phoenician and Ugaritic. In Arabic, old south Arabic, the parallel for this word ir means castle. And that's gonna be important. Whereas in other Semitic languages, it just means city or town. So reading from the entry, in the ancient Near East, the ir was almost always fortified. That is, had walls. Yep. And had its own ruler. 

Speaker 1:  One person in charge. 

Speaker 2:  Mm-hmm. Who was often called king. For example, Melchizedek, king of Salem. Sodom had a king. And Abraham meets those kings in Genesis chapter 14. In fact, Abraham meets a couple kings. They're called kings. But then they're mentioned, the king of a, and it names the city. 

Speaker 1:  Yeah. So I always imagine a king would have a pretty big kingdom, but when I think of just a fortified city, the way we're describing it, doesn't sound like a big place. 

Speaker 2:  Exactly. Yeah. Nothing like the size of and scope of the way we think of cities because they had walls around them. It was a walled enclosure. And also, 

Speaker 1:  Like a Jericho, kind of.

Speaker 2:  In the origin, you know, during the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and — city states were like the most common form of political organization. So not necessarily tribes, but organized around little urban hubs that were surrounded by a wall and each of those was a little kingdom. And then we have a network of un-walled towns around them. 

Speaker 1:  And would the king of the city also rule the little like towns around them that weren't fortified?

Speaker 2:  Yeah. In fact, in Hebrew, those little towns are called daughters. Yeah. The daughters, 

Speaker 1:  They're not called cities, they’re called daughters.

Speaker 2:  They're called the daughters. Well, they can be called. Well, yeah, they're not called ir because the ir is the central thing that has a wall around it. And then the networks are called daughters.

Speaker 1:  Then there's the next step of like, then you have, like a Nebuchadezzar or something. And he's not like the king of an ir. He's like the king of, like, an empire. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. Of many ha’ir is how you say it, in plural. Many, many cities. Yeah. So you, it's basically just what Babylon is, and Assyria, is one mega ir  and all of the other ha’ir or cities are like what the little daughter villages were on a smaller scale. Yeah. So the central city would be the hub primarily for, where the temple and the shrine is, and then primarily where, you know, like the army is and where all the money and commerce flows in and out of, but the actual production of goods is all happening out in the towns. And so the ir is the center of protection, help, deliverance all comes out of the city, out to rescue the, the daughter towns. That's how it was all over the ancient Near East. And ir refers to that walled, enclosed, fortified city at the center of a network of —

Speaker 1:  How big would they be typically? 

Speaker 2:  Oh yeah. You know, thousands. 

Speaker 1:  Of people. 

Speaker 2:  Mm-hmm. Yeah. Hundreds to thousands. And then may, maybe, maybe above 10,000. You know, I didn't, I should have maybe looked this up, but it would really vary. But we're not talking tens and tens of thousands. 

Speaker 1:  What's the detail with the story of Jericho? They walk around the city how quickly? 

Speaker 2:  Oh yeah. They can walk around it in a day. Nineveh. 

Speaker 1:  Yeah. Oh yeah. He walks through it, three days?

Speaker 2:  The narrator says it was a three days’ walk. 

Speaker 1:  Yeah. Three days walk through it.

Speaker 2:  Which, so that’s — 

Speaker 1:  That's a pretty long walk. 

Speaker 2:  And the point is, that's huge. 

Speaker 1:  That's a big city. 

Speaker 2:  Huge. 120,000. 

Speaker 1:  You could walk like 20, 30 miles. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. Though, if you're at cities and it's winding and you're up in elevation, then, you know, maybe less so. But the point is, and whether that means going around the perimeter of the city 

Speaker 1:  Or like getting through all the like, neighborhoods of the city. 

Speaker 2:  Exactly. Yeah. So there's some ambiguity about what it means, a three-day walk to go through the city. But in Jonah, so there, Assyria, which was like the capital city of the biggest world empire at the time is 120,000. And that's a, obviously that's a round number even that at the end of Jonah. So most cities, yeah. We're talking about thousands of people. And then, you know, the network of a maybe a, a few thousand more in the daughter villages around it. So the point is that what constitutes something as a city in the ancient Near East and in biblical Hebrew is not the size of the population. It's about whether there's a wall around it. And whether it's kind of the source of economic, cultural, and religious life of the hub for the towns around it. So the difference between town and city is about the wall and about the hub-like nature. Isn't that interesting? ‘Cause that's different. That’s different.  

Speaker 1:  Well, cause we don't wall our cities. Isn't it amazing how many more people are around today than back then?

Speaker 2:  It's true. 

Speaker 1:  Like 120,000. That's the big city. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Speaker 1:  It's like, that's the suburb I grew up in.

Speaker 2:  Yeah. Isn't that interesting? There are billions of humans on the planet now, and there were not then. 

Speaker 1:  No. 

Speaker 2:  Like, not even close to that. Not 

Speaker 1:  Not even close. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. It's pretty wild to imagine. Yeah. So what are the, what are the biggest cities right now on the planet? 

Speaker 1:  Oh man. Uh, Mexico City. Tokyo. Let's see, they're not the ones you would totally expect. Beijing is 22 million.

Speaker 2:  Beijing, 22. Shanghai, 25. 

Speaker 1:  Shanghai is 25. 

Speaker 2:  Wow. Wow. Mexico City is 9.2. 

Speaker 1:  Yeah. It's up there. 

Speaker 2:  Tokyo, 14. New York City, eight. 

Speaker 1:  This is not in descending order. Go to the Wikipedia page.

Speaker 2:  Dude. São Paulo. Yeah. Yeah. I'm, that's right. I knew that. 

Speaker 1:  Where’s that at? I don't even know.

Speaker 2:  São Paulo? Brazil. 

Speaker 1:  It's Brazil? Oh yeah. 

Speaker 2:  22 million human beings. That is remarkable. Istanbul. Yeah. That's 16 million. 

Speaker 1:  Cairo.

Speaker 2:  Cairo's 10 million. Yeah. Whoa. Chongqing, 32 million. That's in China. Whoa.

Speaker 1:  Where in China is that? 

Speaker 2:  The sprawling municipality at the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing Rivers. 

Speaker 1:  Oh, right by those rivers, mm-hmm.

Speaker 2:  In southwest China. Southwest China. 

Speaker 1:  Okay. 

Speaker 2:  South Southwest China.

Speaker 1:  China. Oh, wow. 

Speaker 2:  Wow. It's the largest city by population, using the city proper definition, which is the area under administrative boundaries of the local government. If that's the criteria. 

Speaker 1:  Meaning it's pretty sprawled?

Speaker 2:  Yeah. But what it says is, current population in the urban core is 15 million. So I guess it depends on your definition. But that's kind of what we're after here is, is the definition. Wow, man. These are just big cities, man. There was nothing like this in the time the Bible was written. In terms of scale. That’s just —

Speaker 1:  I mean, not even close. 

Speaker 2:  That’s just, that's important to let that sink in.

Speaker 1:  Not even in the ballpark. 

Speaker 2:  Which doesn't mean that this theme has nothing to say to people who do live in these modern cities. I really think it does. But that we are living in a different type of moment in the human story. But, human nature being what it is, it's likely that the dynamics that a city of 10 or 20 million faces right now is just a really scaled up version of what's always been happening in human cities, you know? Okay. So that's city in the Bible. What it means, what it doesn't mean. Let's move now to what you could just call the puzzle of the city in the Bible. 


Speaker 2:  Some of the most beautiful expressions of hope and faith in God in the Bible center around images of a divine city. Particularly a divine, a city of God that provides. And just notice, thinking about the definition of what city is in the Bible, the primary emphasis is about security, refuge, and a place of order and life. In the midst of a world that's like crazy out there. So these are just two kind of at random, but they're ones that pop to my imagination as some of my favorite expressions of this in the Bible. Psalm 46, which is actually kind of a familiar Psalm, it gets featured in a lot of contemporary worship songs. God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in times of trouble. Therefore, we won't be afraid, even though the land should shift and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.

Speaker 1:  That's de-creation. 

Speaker 2:  Exactly right. Yeah. Even though the waters roar and foam and the mountains quake at the swelling pride of the waters. Hmm. So, yeah. I mean, you can even see it right here. This is like Genesis one imagery of the dry land and the chaos waters. 

Speaker 1:  But in reverse. Well, Genesis one. God takes the waters away. The land now becomes a stable place for humanity to live, or all creatures and life. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. Right. 

Speaker 1:  And here the land is now slipping. 

Speaker 2:  Cracking apart and being submerged under the chaos waters. Even the highest parts on the land, the mountains, go down. In other words, it's cosmic de-creation. So flood-like proportions through the whole snow globe. The three-tiered cosmos, which the biblical authors take for granted, the waters above in the sky, the land here, and then the waters below the land. But notice how it began — 

Speaker 1:  And around the land. 

Speaker 2:   Yeah. And around the land. Correct. Yep. So notice that the poem didn't begin with that, though. The poem begins saying, God is the refuge and strength. Hmm. 

Speaker 1:  Not the land. 

Speaker 2:  Even if the land itself, the cosmos as we know it, collapses in on itself, there is still a solid refuge that transcends the land. And that is God. ‘Cause God's the author of all of it. And so God is the place of refuge. That's verse one down to verse four. Continuing, there is a river whose streams make glad the city of Elohim, God, the holy dwelling places of the Most High. God is in the middle of her and she, this is the city which is now a woman, she will not be moved. God will help her when the sun rises in the morning. The nations are making an uproar. The kingdoms totter and fall. He raises his voice and the land melts. 

Speaker 1:  He?

Speaker 2:  Uh, God. Elohim. Yeah. Yahweh of armies, the Lord of hosts, Yahweh of armies is with us. The Elohim of Jacob is our stronghold. There's actually one more stanza to the poem below it, but this is enough to, for us to meditate on here. 

Speaker 1:  Hmm. There is this river 

Speaker 2:   

Speaker 1:  Whose streams make glad the city of Elohim. There's a river,

Speaker 2:  Yeah. 

Speaker 1:  And the river has streams. Meaning currents, like the way, it's movement?

Speaker 2:  Mm. Streams, maybe it breaks into streams. 

Speaker 1:  Breaks into streams? Okay. So there's a river, branches out. I mean, this is connected to, I imagine, the river of life. The, the river that flows from Eden, that breaks into four rivers that water the whole world.

Speaker 2:  Totally. For sure that's what's on the brain here. 

Speaker 1:  So there’s the river. There's, this is the river. 

Speaker 2:  The heavenly river.

Speaker 1:  The heavenly river. The Eden river. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. The Eden River. Yep. 

Speaker 1:  That's bringing life to all of creation. And it branches out. So its streams, its streams make glad the city?

Speaker 2:  Yeah. They bring joy to, and what you expect is the garden. 

Speaker 1:  Joy to the people who experience —

Speaker 2:  Yeah. 

Speaker 1:  The water. 

Speaker 2:  Oh, that's right. Yeah. The inhabitants of said, whatever place the water's gonna go. It brings them joy cuz it sustains their life. Totally. That's right. 

Speaker 1:  But it's making glad the city of God. 

Speaker 2:  God's city. You're like, wait, I thought it's God's garden. No, it's God's city. 

Speaker 1:  Oh, interesting.

Speaker 2:  It’s a city. 

Speaker 1:  Because the river of life flowed out of a garden into all the world. There's no cities. 

Speaker 2:  Well, or it flows. Yeah. It flows out and waters the garden and then, yeah, flows out and waters other lands and other places. But the point is that on page one and two of the Bible, the river that God provides grows a garden. And the garden is the refuge in the place. So now it's a city of God. And notice what the city is called, the holy dwelling places of the one way up high. The most high, the highest of the high, the heavens of the heavens. So this is a heavenly city. Because it's God's dwelling place in the highest of the heights. 

Speaker 1:   Yeah. You don't picture the, I don't know, the Jericho-type city where it's like it's out there, there's a wall around it. This is where the rivers are going, but like up on the mountain, the garden place, the like temple place. 

Speaker 2:  Mm-hmm. 

Speaker 1:  This is what we're supposed to be picturing here. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah, yeah. That's right. 

Speaker 1:   But it's described as a city.

Speaker 2:  But the curiosity is, it's all of the imagery that fits the garden of Eden, of centralized river, a holy dwelling place. Next line. God is in the middle of her. You're like, oh, like the tree of life in the middle of the garden. But it's called very clearly not the garden, but the city. 

Speaker 1:  Now also, this was how they thought of Jerusalem though, right? High on a mountain, God was in the middle of it.

Speaker 2:  Yeah, totally. But Jerusalem is also on the land. Yeah? Jerusalem's on a high mountain that would slip into the heart of the sea. So we're not talking about an earthly city. Because that would, you know, fall in one of those crevices that opened up when the land melts, you know what I'm saying? Because the whole thing is that here, down on the land, 

Speaker 1:  You don't think they're saying like, oh, the other cities will slip into the sea, but our city won't. 

Speaker 2:  No. The mountains slip into the heart of the sea and everything with them. The, like cosmic de-creation. That, you put your finger on it, this is about a cosmic collapse. Even if there's cosmic collapse, there's still one place that's safe.

Speaker 1:  So we're talking about something kind of metaphysical at this point. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. And actually notice how the poem began. God is our refuge. A very present help and trouble. What kind of trouble? The poem goes on , like cosmic collapse. 

Speaker 1:  Like the ultimate trouble. 

Speaker 2:   Totally. Yeah. But so how is it that God can be our refuge if the whole, all of reality collapses? Well, because there's a, a river. 

Speaker 1:  Oh. The river. I mean, what does that mean? 

Speaker 2:  Whose streams make, bring joy to God's city that is up on the height of the heights of the heights. 

Speaker 1:  The heights of the heights of the heights. Where do you get that? 

Speaker 2:  It's the dwelling place of the most high one. The, the word most high isn't just rhetorical flourish. It means the one who dwells in the heavens of the heavens of heavens. The most high, as high up as you can think. That's where the most high goes. 

Speaker 1:  So this is the city of the sky. 

Speaker 2:  It's the heavenly city. It's God's city. 

Speaker 1:  And God is in the midst of her. So the city is a her. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. So God's in the midst of her and she the, that city, she's 

Speaker 1:  Not gonna slip into the sea. 

Speaker 2:  Can't slip into the sea. 

Speaker 1:  Yeah. She will not be moved. 

Speaker 2:  No. God will help. Will bring help and act. The word help appears two times here and is, we're going to not see in this conversation, but the next one, that's so important. The word help.

Speaker 1:  Is this, uh, the same word from the garden? 

Speaker 2:  You’ll see. You'll see.

Speaker 1:  I'll see? 

Speaker 2:  Dude, this is a gold mine right here. 

Speaker 1:  What? Uh, ezter or ezer? Ezer. 

Speaker 2:  Ezer. Yeah. 

Speaker 1:  Thanks. Okay. 

Speaker 2:  And so notice, look here, God will help her when the sun rises, when the light comes, when the light enters into the dark chaos. 

Speaker 1:  Hmm. The new creation. 

Speaker 2:  That's God's help. God will help. Yeah. And then look, 

Speaker 1:  Help her, the city. So the city, why does the city need help? 

Speaker 2:  Uh, let's see. Well, 

Speaker 1:  This is the, this is the city of he — this is the heavenly city. Probably is doing okay. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. Well, I guess, okay. All right. So here I might go back ‘cause I said the, you know, the heavenly city and started talking about a sky city. But I think maybe the more, the emphasis is like Eden, which is a place where the land and the sky are the same place. 

Speaker 1:  And isn't that kind of how they thought about Jerusalem? 

Speaker 2:  Well, we're gonna have that debate as we go on in this conversation. Yeah. Whether Israelites thought of Jerusalem as that place, whether they thought of it as potentially being that place or providing symbolic imagery to describe it. So, yeah. We'll, we'll have that out. So, but you're right. This is taking for granted that there is some city. So I'm gonna revise what I said earlier in light of where you're pushing me. This is why I love talking to you. So the concept of Eden and the way the afterlife of Eden cosmic mountain imagery in the rest of the Bible is that there, a place where God is firmly in the middle is a place that can be heaven and earth at once. And so if there is a city that is heaven and earth at the same time, then that heaven on earth city is not, what do you say? Is not in danger even if the cosmos collapses. I guess that's the point here. Okay. And that's why the Eden imagery's key and also the heavenly high up imagery.

Speaker 1:  And the reason why I'm asking too is you get to the last line. 

Speaker 2:  Exactly, yes. 

Speaker 1:  And you get this, the Lord of hosts with us, you get this sense of like, okay, we're in our city, all these nations want to come and take us out. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. Actually here, lemme pause there. So in verse three of the poem, the waters are roaring and foaming surrounding the mountains as they quake and collapse. And then in verse six, the nations are roaring. And the kingdoms are tottering. So now it's the chaos waters have become imperial armies, invading armies surrounding the mountain city trying to invade it. And they totter and the land melts when Yahweh addresses them. But the city is not harmed. The city remains safe. 

Speaker 1:  Yeah. And how can you read that as an Israelite, not think like, that's us. That's Jerusalem. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah, I'm with you. Okay. I mean, yeah. The imagery's going there. The question is, does the imagery stay fixated on it? The actual city of Jerusalem?

Speaker 1:  ‘Cause it's definitely something not beyond, it's something bigger and or ideal. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah, yeah. Like a heavenly Jerusalem. Yeah. To use the language of the last chapter, chapters of the Christian Bible. So notice also the, what do you say, the interchangeability of God and the city. So it begins, God is our refuge. But then God's in the middle of the city. So now the city can be your refuge. Right? Because if you're in the city, you're protected. So there's the emphasis on both God is the refuge and then the city where God dwells is there protected. And the last line of this stanza, the God of Jacob is the stronghold. 

Speaker 1:  Back to God being there. 

Speaker 2:  Back to God, but God's depicted as a city. So now God is, God is like the city. The city is God. 

Speaker 1:  Where do you get that the city is God. 

Speaker 2:  So God is our refuge and our strength. So there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God. God's in the middle of her. She won't be moved. God is our stronghold. So if you're in the middle of the city with God, the city won't be moved. And who or what is the city? Well it's the city and it's God. ‘Cause God is our stronghold. 

Speaker 1:  There's a lot of connection here between God and the city that he's in the middle of. 

Speaker 2:  Yes. 

Speaker 1:  That's a her. But I don't know if it's, it doesn't seem as strong enough to say God is the city. It's almost like, but they are, there's a relationship there that is very 

Speaker 2:  Thank you.

Speaker 1:  Connected. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. The point is, if you're in this space with God in the middle, you are protected in that space because God is there. And God's present. It's where he lives, it's a dwelling place. Yeah. 

Speaker 1:  The city of God.

Speaker 2:  Yeah. So you can see we're pulling on all this garden of Eden, early chapters of Genesis. But in the place of the garden is the city. So we're back to that puzzle, ‘cause the, like, we're, okay. So when does the city become a part of the equation then? 

Speaker 1:   Right. Well, just to be practical about it, they're now living in cities, I mean. 

Speaker 2:  Sure, sure. 

Speaker 1:  So that's their lived experience. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah, that's right. Yeah. It's their vision of reality. But this is a poem found in a collection of scrolls whose ideal beginning for all humanity is a, a garden. Very much without walls.

Speaker 1:  You're saying they could have had an ideal of like, look, we need to get rid of this city and just go back to being garden people.

Speaker 2:  Mm-hmm.  

Speaker 1:  Take down the walls. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah, sure.

Speaker 1:  Like plant gardens. 

Speaker 2:  Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Speaker 1:  Live in huts.  

Speaker 2:  Yeah. And, and here you can go to many other places in the Hebrew Bible where the prophets, for example, look forward to a restoration for Israel. For example, Ezekiel chapter 36, I'm gonna bring you back to your land. And then verse 30, I will multiply the fruit of the tree, the produce of the field. You won't be disgraced by famine among the nations. You will, I’ll cause — Okay. You have cities here. I’ll cause cities to be inhabited and the waste places to be rebuilt. So I guess there's a city there, but the desolate land will be cultivated. The emphasis is more on, 

Speaker 1:  The farming around the city. 

Speaker 2:  Exactly. Fruit tree farming, the desolate land will become like the garden of Eden. And the wasteland will be fortified. Oh, fortified and inhabited. Okay. All right. 

Speaker 1:  Yeah. So we got desolate land, we've got cities. Yes. And both are like for some reason desolate and ruined. And Ezekiel's saying they're gonna become totally fruitful and inhabited. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. So once we get here to Psalm 46 and to the prophets, when we envision the new creation and the new garden, now cities are in the equation. But they're not as the story begins. And I guess maybe just the puzzle. I'm not saying this is a huge puzzle that you can't solve. I'm just saying it's interesting that once cities are introduced in human history, they are,

Speaker 1:  Well, but how else could this, the story couldn't have begun in a city. Like what would, God had created a city. And then he is like, oh, 

Speaker 2:  Oh yeah, okay. Well that's true. And that was your, what you said earlier,

Speaker 1:  There’s only a couple of them.

Speaker 2:  Well, because there's only two of them. 

Speaker 1:  I mean like, sure. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. Well that's a good point. I guess maybe my puzzle's not, it's maybe like a child's puzzle. 

Speaker 1:  I don't know. I mean there's probably, I'm just trying to understand the puzzle. Cause there it does, there is something significant about the progression from garden to city. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah, that's right. Okay. So let's take, let me just pause there and just say the story of the Bible begins with the garden. By the time you get later in the biblical story, when God's heavenly presence, touching down on earth or the future healing of the land and of the universe, is all depicted as city and garden together. And that is curious to me because, as I said earlier, cities are almost entirely negative when they get introduced into the biblical story.

Speaker 1:  So that seems like kind of the heart of the puzzle. 

Speaker 2:  That’s the, that's the puzzle. 

Speaker 1:  Yeah. Because you can have this thought experiment of Adam and Eve just stayed in the city or in Eden and built their huts and homes around the tree of life. You can kind of imagine what you would end up getting is what you see coming down from heaven in Revelation. Right? 

Speaker 2:  Yeah, yeah. 

Speaker 1:  In a way. Like they could've maybe become the thing that they created.

Speaker 2:  Mm-hmm. 

Speaker 1:  But they don't have any chance. I mean they get, they leave. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah, totally. 

Speaker 1:  Yeah. And then when cities are introduced, they're like a problem. 

Speaker 2:  That's right. And because, remember the nature of the city is walls. And the only reason you need walls is ‘cause you live in a world that's dangerous. Which means you're living outside of Eden. So maybe that's it. It's the cities by definition in this culture are about walls that protect you from things that can kill and destroy your people. Which means you're living very much in a non-ideal setting. So the fact that a tool developed by humans to protect themselves from each other is incorporated into the new creation. I think it's really fascinating. But before we get there, let's just quick paint the portrait of the negative introduction of the city. 


Speaker 2:  The first city is the one that Cain builds after he murders his brother and is exiled from the land. The second and third cities that are built are a few chapters later in Genesis by Nimrod who builds Babylon and uh, Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. The fourth city named and really focusing on the Bible is Sodom and Gomorrah and her daughters. Hmm. And their daughters. And really those cities become the archetypes of the human city. Of violence, oppression, and evil. So just real quick here, so Ezekiel 16. This was the guilt of Sodom. They were arrogant, they had abundant food and careless ease. And they didn't help the poor and the needy. They were arrogant, they committed abominations before me. So I removed them. That's Ezekiel 16 verse 48 and following. So that's very clearly like it's a city. Yeah. And what happens in cities, wealth gets concentrated, right? In the hands of a few who live way more extravagantly than they need to and there's economic inequity and so a bunch of people suffer and nobody seems to care. Hm. That's the life of the city. And you're like, oh, yep. 

Speaker 1:  Seen that. 

Speaker 2:  In the book of Isaiah, Babylon is singled out and, look at this, Isaiah says, Babylon the beauty of all kingdoms, the glory of the pride of the Chaldeans. Chaldean is their ancient kind of tribal name of the people that built Babylon. They will be like when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. So it's like one one bad city now compared to another bad city. It'll never be inhabited or lived in from generation to generation. So Babylon is compared to Sodom and Gomorrah. And it's even worse. Not ‘cause it's fundamentally different, but just the scale is even bigger now because it's an empire. So just right there is a quick sketch of like, these are the primary cities in the Bible and the first cities in the Bible. So the fact that God can still envision a future for the human family, and that it doesn't just erase the city but finds a way and incorporates it into its vision of new creation. That's for me the puzzle and what I find astounding. 

Speaker 1:  I think that, yeah. By describing it as a puzzle makes me maybe overthink it. It's, but it is a surprise. 

Speaker 2:  Okay. The surprise of the city. 

Speaker 1:  It’s the surprise of the city because, 

Speaker 2:  Yeah, all right. I'm with you. Thank you. Look at me. This is second time editing my notes. 

Speaker 1:  Just, yeah. I'm here to help you out, dude. 

Speaker 2:   

Speaker 1:  Okay. But yeah, I mean it is a puzzle. But the puzzle’s, I feel like, fairly simple and we've put our finger on already. It’s like the only cities that we're introduced to are created outside of Eden, and they're created in human, with human violence and arrogance and selfishness at its core.

Speaker 2:  They’re both a response to human nature and its inclination towards violence outside. So it's a response to that. And that's sad that it's even necessary. But then they become engines of that.

Speaker 1:  Yeah. And because the only other thing we have to say, well, what was better was when there was no city. Then all the imagery we get to describe a state that we wanna go back to is garden imagery. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Speaker 1:  So it makes you feel like, oh, garden good, city bad. That seems obvious. And the surprise is like, well actually, 

Speaker 2:  Yeah, yeah. 

Speaker 1:  Like human civilization had to form and it could form in a different way and it will still be a condensed group of people living together, creating culture, doing stuff. But it can be fundamentally different. And it's still a city.

Speaker 2:  Yeah,totally. Yes. That's right. It's still a city. So there are different ways that the biblical authors, I'm thinking here of a really cool poem, or not a poem, it's a prophetic vision in Zechariah. And we've never talked about Zechariah on the podcast. This book is so, so rad. In Zechariah chapter two and three, there's these parallel visions describing the future, restoration of the Israelites from exile. And, um, in chapter two, verse 10, the Israelites are called to sing for joy and be glad O daughter of Zion 

Speaker 1:  And Zion's another name of Jerusalem. 

Speaker 2:  And daughter of Zion is an important way the city's referred to. We'll talk about that in the next conversation. Look, I am coming to dwell in your midst in the middle of you. Many nations are going to join themselves to Yahweh in that day, and the nations will become my people. It's like the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, right? Then I'll dwell in the middle of you and you will know that I am Yahweh. So that's chapter two. So in Zechariah two, the prophet’s speaking, uh, he's living after the return from exile to Babylon, and he has all these portraits of hope for the future of the new Jerusalem, the restored Jerusalem that they're hoping to build and be a part of. And so he has this vision, a heavenly vision, and he's speaking to these heavenly beings. And the heavenly beings run and say to Zechariah, Jerusalem will be inhabited again one day without walls because of all the multitude of humans and animals in it. I, says Yahweh, will be a wall of fire around her and the glory in the middle of her. 

Speaker 1:  You know what made me, so I had this thought, I was like, okay, so Eden didn't have walls. But it did have a flaming sword. 

Speaker 2:  Totally. Oh sure. 

Speaker 1:  And cherubim. 

Speaker 2:  Well, but they get stationed there. To patrol it. 

Speaker 1:  Okay, they weren't there originally. 

Speaker 2:  It doesn't say that. What it says is he stationed the cherubim there as he exiled Adam and Eve through the gate, through the door. But you're right, it does beg the question of were the bouncers always there? You know? And so here Yahweh himself is functioning like those. But what's interesting is, okay, you're like, oh, well of course it doesn't need stone walls, it's gonna have a fire wall. I guess pun not intended. But then check this out. So, and usually you're like, oh, walls are to keep out all the bad guys. But then later down in the vision, Zechariah is told that the daughter of Zion, which is a way of describing Jerusalem, and as a woman, as a daughter, rejoice and be glad for look, I am coming to dwell in the middle of you. And many nations will join themselves to Yahweh in that day and will become my people then I will dwell. 

Speaker 1:  How are they gonna get through the fire wall? 

Speaker 2:  Exactly. Apparently the wall isn't to keep out the nations. ‘Cause the nations were actually all gonna become one with God's people in the new Jerusalem. So the function of the walls changes here and the walls become an emblem of the fiery glory of Yahweh dwelling in our midst. It's like they're this the signal. 

Speaker 1:  And they still seem protective in some way. But not in a way that's keeping people out.

Speaker 2:  That's right. Because the whole point is there aren't any more people to harm you. Because everybody who used to harm you is now gonna join themselves to my people. And we're all gonna be one. 

Speaker 1:  Really, this is many nations. This idea of, is, no one's gonna harm you anymore. 

Speaker 2:  Mm-hmm. Yeah. So this is Zechariah's version of what Isaiah sees in Isaiah chapter two, which is about the mountain of the house of Yahweh being established as the chief, the head of all mountains. All the nations will say, come let us go up. Learn Torah. No more war. 

Speaker 1:  You know, we talked about the revelation city, the sky coming down. And you've got the, I think isn't, the image is that the gates are open and the nations come in. 

Speaker 2:  Actually, the walls are a big focus of the vision that he has. Of the new Jerusalem coming down. Specifically that the walls are surrounding the city and that they have gates. And then he goes and talks about the 12 gates with pearls and gates made of a single pearl and so on. So it's a city with gates, but then the, the surprise there is in Revelation 21:25, there will be no night there, and the gates will never be shut. They’re perpetually open. 

Speaker 1:  Right. So what's the point of a wall if you’re never gonna shut the gates? 

Speaker 2:  Yeah, totally. It's like, yeah. It's sort of like a sign that, well we used to need a wall, but now we don’t.

Speaker 1:  Now it's just a big jewel. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. And Yahweh is the fiery light that lights up the whole city and makes the city a beacon. The light, the city on a hill, the light. 

Speaker 1:  And they will be, what's the next verse? And they will bring the glory and honor of the nations. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. Will come into it.

Speaker 1:  Will come into it. 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. Exactly. 

Speaker 1:  And this is, this is what Isaiah was saying, they're gonna stream up. And they're gonna hang out, do Torah. 

Speaker 2:  So notice we're still on this assumption of what makes the city walls and the central hub of religious, economic, and cultural life. And that's exactly the picture here. So maybe this is about, what really makes the surprise of the city is that something that's introduced into biblical story that's both a tragic result of human violence and then becomes like a hub of even greater human violence. It isn't done away with in the ideal restoration, it's incorporated into the restoration and redeemed. And I guess that's the surprise. The surprise of the — thank you for that, it's not a puzzle, it's a surprise. That something that humans meant for evil, that God turns it into good. I guess that's the simple way of using Joseph's words from the end of Genesis. That's the surprise of the city. 

Speaker 1:  The surprise is that God doesn't say, look, we're gonna go back to being garden people. And we're gonna simplify and all, and the problem is the city. He said, he's like, the city is gonna become a good thing. 

Speaker 2:  Yes. And again, just flowing with the last chapter of the Bible here, after the city and all its walls and gates are described, then you hear there's a river, the water of life flowing out from the throne of God and the lamb. So now you've got that river that's gonna make glad the city flowing out. And the tree of life is there, bearing 12 kinds of fruit. And there is no longer any curse. And you've got humans, all the nations who are, um, ruling and serving in the royal city. It's the garden. The garden city. We have a friend who wrote a book, John Mark Comer wrote a book called “Garden City” that's exploring this biblical theme and then practically what does it mean to be inspired by this hope and vision as we live in our actual cities. It's a really creative exploration of the theme, but that's the surprise of the city. 

Speaker 2:  So what I would like to do is then take however many conversations this will last to kind of walk through that progression, which is gonna mean meditating on the relationship of the garden and the first city, Cain’s city. ‘Cause there's something super important there that a friend showed me once. And that just like, whoa. It's so illuminating. And then you can track through the founding of all these terrible cities, cities of blood, and, uh, on into the story of Israel that's called to be a new garden, but it becomes a new city of blood. And what God then does is enters into the city of blood personally and allows the city of man to kill him. And that becomes the drama that drives into the story of Jesus in the New Testament. But there you go. That's the, that's the map, that's the roadmap. 

Speaker 1:  And I think the big questions on my mind, and I imagine other people's minds are then what does that mean for us now to live in a city? Because practically there's many different, or how, how to find the heavenly city. Are we just to wait around till it shows up from the sky? Are we to actively kind of try to create it? Kind of take over the cities and, and make it happen? Is it something in between? Like what’s, 

Speaker 2:  Yeah. There's gotta be something in between do nothing or take it over. But you're painting kind of the, you're painting the extremes, right, of the end of possibilities. Yeah. No, that's exactly right. That's a great question. And what's interesting is, you know, that's gonna be relative from city to city. Right. Like how we process that living where we do will be different than our brothers and sisters living in Mexico City or Shanghai, you know, or, um, Tokyo or São Paulo. But that's the adventure that we're on and we have this theme to really fuel our imaginations and to, this can become a, I think a vehicle that the Spirit can use to provide wisdom to God's people. But, uh, that begins with us meditating on the surprise of the city in the story of the Bible. 


Speaker 3:  Well, hey, this is Dan Gummel with the podcast team and I'm back, uh, with another, uh, BibleProject introduction and I'm really excited to introduce you guys because I just met you. So do you wanna introduce yourself?

Speaker 4:  Hi, I'm Julia and I'm a localization manager for BibleProject German. 

Speaker 3:  Yes. That is awesome. And Philip? 

Speaker 5:  Yes, I'm Philip. I lead the team in Germany. For 

Speaker 3:  For people who aren't familiar with the German BibleProject, like what's an overview? 

Speaker 4:  So we have like 50K subscribers, 60K subscribers at the moment. Yeah. We have like 2,000-3,000 views per video. We have, um, released all of the Scripture book overviews, Luke-Acts, Character of God, I think Gospel series. How to Read the Bible. 

Speaker 3:  What are you guys working on right now?

Speaker 4:  Localization of Spiritual Being. 

Speaker 3:  Oh, that's probably really hard. 

Speaker 4:  Oh, that's okay. I'm sorry. It it's okay. Yeah, I think it's okay. I'm only at script, uh, three. So.

Speaker 3:  How did you guys get involved with BibleProject? 

Speaker 5:  Our step was in, I was a youth pastor in 2015 and I was searching for a tool to, uh, for young, uh, persons to teach them about the Bible. 

Speaker 3:  Okay. 

Speaker 5:  Searching for a tool. And I found the BibleProject on YouTube. I think it's so great, we must have it in Germany. And so I write, uh, wrote an email to Tim and Jon and asked, can I do it in Germany? And they say, yeah, great idea. Why not? We cannot help you, but it's okay. Do it. And so we start 2016 in Germany. 

Speaker 6:  Wow. 

Speaker 5:  We are the, the first language outside the U.S. 

Speaker 6:  You guys were the first language?

Speaker 5:  Yes, of course. Yeah. 

Speaker 6:  Oh, I didn't know this. Well, this is so cool guys.

Speaker 5:  We gave the idea for the focus, a global focus team.  

Speaker 6:  That sounds like a very fun story. It's to, kind of start it up. Okay. Give it a go, Philip. 

Speaker 5:  Today's show came from our podcast team, including Producer Cooper Peltz and Associate Producer Lindsey Ponder. 

Speaker 4:  Our lead editor is Dan Gummel. Additional editors are Tyler Bailey and Frank Garza. Tyler Bailey, a.k.a. Tyler the Creator, also mixed this episode. And Hannah Woo did our annotations for the BibleProject app. BibleProject is a crowdfunded nonprofit. Everything we make is free because of your generous support. Thank you so much for being a part of this with us. 

Speaker 5:  [German] 

Speaker 6:  That was great. That's great.

15 Episodes

Episode 15
Is the Church a City?
Was Cain’s city a good thing initially? If Israel was just as bad as Sodom and Gomorrah, why didn’t God destroy it too? And how will God redeem the city in the new creation? In this episode, Tim and Jon respond to your questions from the second half of The City series. Thank you to our audience for your insightful questions!
55m • Aug 30, 2023
Episode 14
How Did Abraham Know About the City of God?
How could Abraham have anticipated a coming City of God, like the author of Hebrews said? What’s the connection between the shame of Adam and Eve and that of their son Cain? Was Genesis first an oral tradition, and how did it become a written account with so many literary hyperlinks? In this episode, Tim and Jon respond to your questions from the first half of The City series. Thank you to our audience for your incredible questions!
52m • Jul 24, 2023
Episode 13
The Heavenly City
In the Bible, cities have a bad reputation as centers of immorality and unrighteous living. First-century followers of Jesus continued to live in cities, but they lived by an other-worldly ethic set by Jesus. Their way of living was so different that Jesus’ followers began to talk about their citizenship being primarily in a coming heavenly city, rather than the physical city in which they lived. In this episode, join Jon and Tim as they wrap up our theme study of the city.
1hr 6m • Jul 17, 2023
Episode 12
Jesus, the New Jerusalem
As the story of the Bible unfolds, the expectation for a city of God—a new Jerusalem where Heaven and Earth will be fully united—continues to grow. Yet the gospel authors seem to think this new Jerusalem is most fully realized in Jesus himself. So if Jesus is the new Jerusalem, what’s his relationship with the physical city of Jerusalem? In this episode, Tim and Jon discuss how Jesus and his followers become the new Jerusalem.
1hr 4m • Jul 10, 2023
Episode 11
Whose Idea Was the “City of God”?
Cities appear to be inherently bad in the story of the Bible. So when Jesus calls his followers a city on a hill, what does he mean? And why is the vision of the new creation a city instead of a garden? In this episode, Tim and Jon review some of the major motifs in the theme of the city so far and explore the concept of a city of God.
55m • Jul 3, 2023
Episode 10
Jesus’ Disciples Are a City
The city of Jerusalem, established by David to be the home of God, is a glimpse of what a divine city could look like, but even Jerusalem becomes corrupt. Is there any kind of city we can actually put our hope in? Jesus seemed to think so. He said he was the place where Heaven and Earth are fully united, allowing God and humanity to dwell together. Then he took it a step further to say his followers are a city on a hill, the city of God. In this episode, Tim and Jon discuss the new Jerusalem.
1hr 3m • Jun 26, 2023
Episode 9
Jerusalem: A Tale of Two Cities
Israel was meant to be a picture of the heavenly city of God, but over time, it began to look more like Babylon, Nineveh, and Sodom and Gomorrah. In the scroll of Isaiah, the prophet announces Yahweh’s coming judgment on Israel because of their oppression of other humans. Join Tim and Jon as they discuss the city of God in the scroll of Isaiah.
58m • Jun 19, 2023
Episode 8
City of God or City of Cain?
When we first read about Jerusalem in the Bible, it appears to be a golden city—founded by David, a center of victory, prosperity, and unity. But it doesn’t take long for the cracks to begin to show, and Jerusalem becomes a home for idolatry and oppression. What happened to the city David founded to cause the prophet Micah to accuse it of being a city founded on human bloodshed? In this episode, Tim and Jon talk about how even the so-called city of God can resemble the city of Cain.
1hr 4m • Jun 12, 2023
Episode 7
The Bible's Most Famous City
Jerusalem is the Bible’s image of what a city of God should be. But from the earliest moments of its founding, it's clear that even this city has problems. What will it take for a city to truly become like the garden of Eden? In this episode, Tim and Jon discuss the founding of Jerusalem and what it will take for God and humans to dwell together.
1hr 28m • Jun 5, 2023
Episode 6
Can a City Be Good?
At last, there’s a positive example of a city in the Bible, the capital city of Egypt under the rule of Joseph. In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they explore how a city—usually a perpetrator of death and violence—can become a source of life under the leadership of a wise human image of God.
1hr • May 29, 2023
Episode 5
Sodom and Gomorrah
If Babylon is the worst city in the Bible, then Sodom and Gomorrah are a close second. The injustice and oppression in Sodom and Gomorrah are so pronounced that God sends a flood of justice to completely wipe out these two cities. In this episode, Tim and Jon discuss the theme of the city and the darkest parts of human nature. Content warning: Today's episode contains some mention of sexual abuse, rape, and incest.
1hr 6m • May 22, 2023
Episode 4
The Biggest, Baddest City in the Bible
You may have heard that Babylon was the biggest, baddest city in the Bible, but where did that reputation come from? Who founded the city, and what made it so detestable to God? In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they explore the story of the half-human, half-god Nimrod and the city he founded.
1hr • May 15, 2023
Episode 3
A Symptom of Human Violence
As the story of the Bible unfolds, humanity grows more and more violent. Cain is more violent than his parents, and his descendants are more violent than him. In this episode, Tim and Jon discuss Lamech, Cain’s far more murderous descendant, and humanity’s escalating violence that prompts God to flood the earth.
1hr 15m • May 8, 2023
Episode 2
Why Cain Builds a City
In the story of the Bible, cities are a bad thing. They’re a symptom of humanity’s violence and attempts to protect themselves instead of trusting God. In fact, in the second chapter of Genesis, God “builds” something for humanity’s protection. And it’s not a city—it’s a woman. In this episode, Tim and Jon explore the theme of the city and the first thing God builds.
1hr 15m • May 1, 2023
Episode 1
The Surprise of the City
The theme of the city in the Bible is a surprising one. When cities are introduced in the story, they’re depicted as “bad”—a human response to increasing violence and the need for self-protection—and gardens are depicted as humanity’s ideal setting. However, in the book of Revelation, the new creation Jesus brings is a city. What’s going on here? Join Tim and Jon as they start exploring the biblical theme of the city.
1hr 7m • Apr 24, 2023
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